from the start our second son had been a very challenging child to deal
with but it was not until 8 days into Grade 2 that all of our lives started
spinning drastically out of control. It started with a phone call from his
teacher. She was using expressions like "lack of focus", daydreaminess",
and "inability to concentrate". My mind started reeling. Although
she was careful not to use the expression ADHD, it was quickly becoming
apparent that she was convinced that our son had a mental disorder.
It was one of those galvanizing moments in a lifetime where you remember exactly where you were when you learned of some tragic event. This was incomprehensible to me. I knew nothing about ADHD except that these children had trouble concentrating
in school and that a drug called Ritalin helped them. Our
problems with our son at home had nothing to do with an inability to concentrate
on his part, it was quite the opposite.
He was continuously
coming up with ideas that we could not get him to stop concentrating on.
How could this child be "Attention Deficit"? It was to be the
beginning of a long and heart-breaking learning experience for us all.
We waited weeks for an appointment, several more for the results - ADHD. They didn¹t feel that Ritalin was necessary at that time. They suggested behavior therapy but also recommended that he have a cognitive evaluation done. He was unable to read but they did not feel his ADHD was severe enough to have been the sole contributor to this problem. It was early November by the time we got these results back.
There was good news and there was bad news. The educational psychologist who conducted the tests confirmed what we already knew, that he was extremely bright. In fact, of the nearly 5000 children she had evaluated, his scores were some of the highest she had seen on some of the tests, and one of the lowest on one test. He had a learning disability of sufficient severity that she did not think he would be able to learn to read. An IQ in excess of 150 but he would not be able to learn how to read??? My husband, older son and I were avid readers. I could not even imagine a life without reading.
Meanwhile, as the psychologist explained to us, because he was so bright and realized that the rest of the class could all read and he could not, his self-esteem began an ever-accelerating downward spiral. His behavior in the classroom deteriorated as he attempted to draw the teacher¹s attention away from his inability to read by acting out in class. His classmates were quick to label him both "stupid" and "bad" and he just as quickly accepted their assessments.
On Christmas day he walked into the kitchen where my mother and I were sitting and talking, held an imaginary gun to his temple and stated in a monotone voice, "I am stupid, I am stupid, I don¹t deserve to live". He was 7 1Ž2 years old. I felt a crushing weight on my heart as I realized that my son was now fighting for his life. I clung desperately to the belief that if I could help him learn how to read that I could somehow reverse this process that seemed to be out of everybody¹s control. There just had to be something I could do. The psychologist felt that it might be worth teaching him phonics instead of the whole language approach he was being taught in school. There was finally something I could do to help my son.
We began to work every day after school and he slowly started making some progress on the reading. The self-esteem, however, was continuing to worsen and his belief that he "didn¹t deserve to live" became increasingly entrenched. Somewhere along the way he stopped smiling and virtually never laughed. He continued to clash with his classmates. Getting him to get up and off to school was becoming increasingly difficult and impossible some days.
We worked on the reading skills over the summer and he started Grade 3 reading slightly above grade level. He also decided on the 3rd day that he hated his teacher. All of the behaviours worsened, both at home and in the classroom. I kept him home from school a lot, but he stopped doing extra schoolwork with me early on in the year. By Easter we had both had enough and I kept him home for the remainder of the year.
I hoped that a new teacher might make a difference. With the pressure of going to school now taken away we got a bit of a reprieve at home but it was short-lived. By the middle of August he was in a state of continuous rage. The prospect of returning to a classroom full of children who despised him was becoming more than he appeared to be able to handle. He went from threatening to kill himself one day to begging me to kill him the next.
We went to our doctor and got a prescription for Ritalin. I had read as much as I could about the drug and knew it was the last thing I wanted my son to be taking but there didn¹t seem to be another option for us. Within 15 minutes he sat down for the first time in recent memory. But, as Labour Day approached even the Ritalin wasn¹t having an effect dealing with the rage. And by now he also had a plan for ending his life. He was going to hang himself in the barn. Our barn is an enormous structure - it was a potent threat.
He had always required a great deal of supervision, we had never, ever been able to let him out of our sight. He passed through Labour Day weekend in what could only be described as blind fury, directed at my husband and myself as we did everything humanly possible to try and reason with him, placate him, just "get through" to him somehow. He continued to rage at us but we somehow managed to get through the weekend and get him to school.
He was cautiously optimistic about his new teacher, the rage subsided somewhat. Under the effect of the Ritalin he stopped clashing with classmates. He also stopped eating, and wasn¹t getting to sleep until midnight. I started making enormous breakfasts for him so that I could get some nutrition into him before he took the medication. As the effects of the Ritalin wore off each day he would become increasingly agitated and demanding and angry with us, and now that he was staying awake for so long it was becoming increasingly difficult to get the simplest of tasks done around the house. Our lives were centered completely around keeping this child supervised. He was consuming our combined energies faster than we could recoup them. Feelings of worthlessness continued and the threats of suicide persisted. And at just 50 pounds he was 3 sizes smaller than he should have been for his age. He simply could not afford to be eating only one meal a day.
This was not working. We were surviving but that was all we were doing. Then, in October of that year I happened to catch a "teaser" for the National News that talked about a promising nutritional supplement that was being used to help sufferers of Bi-Polar Disorder. My brother had been incapacitated by this disorder for 7 years. I wrote to the network to get information about how to get in touch with the people doing the research and was directed to Truehope¹s website.
I was amazed to find out they were helping children with ADHD as well. The more I talked with the research assistant the more I came to realize that my son probably had at least three disorders. He had all the symptoms of Bi-Polar and well as Oppositional Defiant Disorder in addition to the ADHD.
He started taking the supplement in early November of 2000 and stopped taking the Ritalin after 2 months but struggled to stay on task and not be disruptive in the classroom. In March we were faced with an ultimatum by the school, to either put him back on Ritalin or take him out of school. I knew that the future he would have if we went back to the pharmaceuticals would likely parallel my brother¹s life of life-threatening bouts of depression and an inability to work and look after his family despite the use of bi-polar medications. I was fully prepared to give EMPower a chance to make him well. I took him out of school again.
More than 2 years have passed since we made that decision and he has shown slow but steady improvement in every facet of his life. In September of 2001 he was ready and willing to return to school for Grade 5. We transferred him to a small private school so that he could get a new start with teachers and students who never knew his "former self". His self esteem has soared as he has begun to experience success in school for the first time. He shows no sign of having a learning disability. He prefers to get to school early every morning and likes to be the last child picked up. He now has friends for the first time in his life, gets invited to birthday parties, has an amazing sense of humor and loves to laugh, is a willing helper around the house, loves to go camping and kayaking... loves life and the chance to just be just like any other kid his age. Life is simply good.